A Different Mirror

A Different Mirror

A Different Mirror Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ronald Takaki

Ronald Takaki was born in Hawaii to Japanese-American parents. His ancestors immigrated to the US in the 1880s and worked on sugarcane plantations. As a teenager, Takaki was a talented surfer. He earned his BA from the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he was one of only two Asian American students. He then earned his PhD in American history at the University of California, Berkeley, after which he taught Black Studies at UCLA. Returning to Berkeley, Takaki helped to create the Ethnic Studies program at the university, which served a foundational role in the creation of Ethnic Studies as a field. Takaki married Carol Rankin, with whom he had three children. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in middle age, and retired from teaching in 2004. He died by suicide in 2009, at the age of 70.
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Historical Context of A Different Mirror

As a work of history, A Different Mirror is teeming with historical events. Some of the most significant include Columbus’s “discovery” of the land that became the United States in 1492, and the arrival of the first twenty Africans on American shores in 1619. The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1855 drove millions of Irish immigrants to the US, significantly shaping the population and culture of the emergent nation. As a conflict driven by racial tensions and the ongoing existence of slavery, the Civil War is also a highly important event in the book. Likewise, the Second World War had a transformative impact on the nature of race relations in the US. Takaki gives an account of the Civil Rights movement that was in many ways provoked by the events of the Second World War, and also of the way 9/11 impacted the US’ image of itself and, in particular, the treatment of Muslims and Afghan Americans in the country. 

Other Books Related to A Different Mirror

A Different Mirror bears many similarities to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which similarly seeks to dispel myths about the US and retell the story of the country from the perspective of ordinary workers, poor people, and people of color. Taking a cue from Zinn, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz takes an even more critical look at the foundational myths of American history and re-centers indigenous people in An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. Similar titles include A Black Women’s History of the United States, An African American and Latinx History of the United States, A Queer History of the United States, and A Disability History of the United States. Other books that take a comparative look at ethnicity in the US include Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States, and Shades of Difference and Unequal Freedom, both by Evelyn Nakano Glenn.
Key Facts about A Different Mirror
  • Full Title: A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America
  • When Written: Unknown
  • Where Written: Berkeley, California
  • When Published: 1993
  • Literary Period: Late 20th century popular American history
  • Genre: Ethnic Studies
  • Setting: The United States, from the precolonial period to the 1990s
  • Climax: N/A
  • Antagonist: N/A
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for A Different Mirror

Family Ties. Included among Takaki’s sources are his ancestors, who were workers on a sugar cane plantation in Hawaii, and his son, Nicholas, who protests about the inadequate education on issues of ethnicity in the US school system.

All Ages. In 2012, Rebecca Stefoff adapted a version of the book for younger readers, entitled A Different Mirror for Young People.